The Once Upon a Time Challenge that I recently signed up for includes, among other things, reading of a novel by Neil Gaiman Neverwhere, and I felt it would be appropriate to kick off my series of posts for the challenge with one of Gaiman’s short stories, Troll Bridge.
The story begins when a seven-year old boy walks onto an old bridge inhabited by a troll:
“He was huge: his head brushed the top of the brick arch. He was more or less translucent: I could see the bricks and trees behind him, dimmed but not lost. He was all my nightmares given flesh.”
Even though the troll seems translucent at first, as the boy’s fear of the troll grows stronger, so does the solidity of the creature:
“He became more and more solid to me, more and more real; and the world outside became flatter, began to fade.”
The troll wants to eat the boy’s life, but the boy manages to convince the troll that eating him at this time isn’t a good idea, and he promises to come back when he is grown and has more to offer.
The second chance encounter occurs when the narrator is 15 years old, but this time he is with a girl who he thinks he loves. The scene allows us a glimpse into the narrator’s self-centered interior: he doesn’t even blink to offer his friend to the troll to save his own life. But the creature refuses to take the girl, because she is innocent, and the boy is not. Again, using his power of persuasion and assurance that he’ll be back, the boy escapes unscathed, but his friendship with the girl ends abruptly, and he feels no regret.
The narrator never talks directly about how these encounters affected him, but I think that fear of the troll and everything he represented have become the narrator’s obsession and eventually left his life in a shambles, while unwise choices and lost opportunities added to that. The story ends with a twist that is not completely unexpected, but makes perfect sense thanks to the author’s masterful use of foreshadowing. After reading this story, I will certainly check out Gaiman’s other works.
Troll Bridge was first published in Gaiman’s short story collection Smoke and Mirrors.
“Neil Richard Gaiman is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. Gaiman’s writing has won numerous awards, including Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker, as well as the 2009 Newbery Medal and 2010 Carnegie Medal in Literature. He is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work.” info from Wikipedia